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How to Become a Civil Engineer

By Anita Akpuoforba

Published:

Are you ready to build the future? If you have a passion for problem-solving, creativity, and shaping the world around you, then a career in civil engineering might be your calling. In this comprehensive guide, we’ll walk you through the essential steps, from choosing the right educational path to landing your dream job, and equip you with the tools to construct a successful career in the exciting field of civil engineering.

Career Summary

Civil Engineer Salary

Civil Engineer Salary

Salaries for Civil Engineers can vary based on factors such as experience, location, and industry. Here is an overview of entry-level, median, and executive salaries for civil engineers, based on data from Glassdoor:

  • Entry Salary (US$70k)
  • Median Salary (US$92k)
  • Executive Salary (US$130k)

Civil Engineers’ median salary is higher compared to the average wage for all jobs in the US, which was US$61,900 in May 2022.

What does a Civil Engineer do?

Civil engineers are professionals who design, construct, and maintain infrastructure projects such as buildings, bridges, roads, and water systems. They utilize various tools and technologies, including computer-aided design (CAD) software, mathematical modeling, and surveying equipment, to analyze site conditions and create detailed plans for the successful implementation of projects. Ultimately, they play a vital role in shaping our physical environment and ensuring the functionality and safety of our infrastructure.

Civil Engineer Career Progression

In the field of civil engineering, career progression often follows a trajectory of increasing responsibility based on individual experience, obtaining advanced degrees and relevant certifications, and latching on to the right opportunities.

  • Entry-Level Engineer: Starting as an entry-level engineer, individuals work under the guidance of senior engineers and gain practical experience in various aspects of civil engineering, such as design, drafting, and project coordination.
  • Junior Engineer: After a few years of experience, engineers may take on more independent roles as junior engineers. They handle more complex tasks, oversee smaller projects, and continue to develop their technical skills.
  • Project Engineer: With further experience, engineers can advance to project engineer roles. They lead projects, manage teams, and take on responsibilities such as budgeting, scheduling, and client communication.
  • Senior Engineer: Senior engineers oversee larger projects, provide technical guidance, mentor junior staff, and play a key role in decision-making processes.
  • Engineering Manager: Engineering managers are responsible for the overall operations of engineering teams, including resource allocation, project management, and strategic planning.
  • Technical Specialist: Some civil engineers choose to specialize in specific areas such as structural engineering, transportation engineering, or environmental engineering. They become recognized experts in their field, providing specialized knowledge and consulting services.
  • Project Manager/Director: For those interested in broader project management responsibilities, becoming a project manager or director is a common progression. They oversee multiple projects, coordinate with stakeholders, and ensure successful project delivery within budget and schedule constraints.
  • Executive Positions: In larger organizations or consulting firms, civil engineers may reach executive positions such as Vice President or Chief Engineer. These roles involve strategic planning, business development, and high-level decision-making.
Civil Engineer Career Progression

Pros:

  • Impactful projects: You have the opportunity to design and build infrastructure such as bridges, roads, buildings, and water systems that improve people’s lives.
  • Job stability: Infrastructure is always needed, which means there is a consistent demand for civil engineers. This provides good job stability and prospects for long-term career growth.
  • Competitive salary: Civil engineering offers a competitive salary compared to many other professions. 
  • Positive impact on the environment: With the growing emphasis on sustainable development, civil engineers play a crucial role in designing and implementing environmentally friendly infrastructure projects.

Cons:

  • Long working hours and potential work-life imbalance.
  • High-stress levels due to project complexities and tight schedules.
  • Fieldwork and exposure to challenging outdoor environments.
  • Navigating complex regulatory frameworks and permitting processes.
  • Dealing with project uncertainties and potential delays.

Useful Skills to Have as a Civil Engineer

  • Strong problem-solving abilities for overcoming challenges and developing innovative solutions.
  • Proficiency in mathematics and analytical skills for data analysis and informed decision-making.
  • Project management skills for planning, organizing, and resource allocation.
  • Attention to detail in calculations, design reviews, and construction supervision.
  • Adaptability and flexibility to adjust to changing project requirements.

Popular Civil Engineer Specialties

  • Transportation Engineer
  • Geotechnical Engineer
  • Water Resources Engineer
  • Construction Engineer
  • Urban Planner

How to become a Civil Engineer

Civil Engineer 5 Steps to Career

As with other career routes, there are a lot of requirements for you to advance from being a complete novice with zero prior understanding of the field to an authority whose opinion is sought after everywhere you may be. However, the first step is deciding whether you need to get a civil engineering degree to lay the foundation for your future in this dynamic field.

Do I need a degree to become a Civil Engineer?

Getting a civil engineering degree is important if you want to pursue a career in the field. Typically, employers look for candidates with a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering or a related field. Just be sure to double-check the specific requirements in your country or region, as they may vary.

Why is it important to get a degree in Civil Engineering?

  • Provides necessary knowledge and skills to excel in the field: A degree program in civil engineering covers essential topics and concepts that are crucial for a successful career in the field. You will learn about structural analysis, transportation systems, geotechnical engineering, water resources, environmental engineering, and other areas. This comprehensive education builds a strong foundation and enables you to understand the fundamental principles and concepts needed to tackle real-world engineering challenges.
  • Fulfills the requirement for becoming a licensed professional engineer: Obtaining a civil engineering degree is the first requirement for becoming a licensed professional engineer. After getting the degree, you are expected to sit for licensing exams such as Fundamentals of Engineering (FE) and Principles and Practice of Engineering (PE).
    Being licensed establishes your credibility with prospective clients, employers, and regulatory bodies. It is also important for certain positions and responsibilities in the field, particularly those involving public safety and overseeing large-scale projects
  • Offers networking opportunities with professors, fellow students, and industry professionals: Pursuing a degree in civil engineering provides opportunities to interact with professors, fellow students, and industry professionals. These connections can be invaluable for networking, seeking internships, job offers, and mentorship opportunities. Building a strong professional network can significantly enhance your career growth and development in the industry.
  • Equips you with problem-solving and critical thinking abilities required in the field: Civil engineers are responsible for designing, analyzing, and solving complex engineering problems. A degree program in civil engineering emphasizes problem-solving skills and critical thinking abilities. You will learn how to approach and solve engineering problems, analyze data, make informed decisions, and develop innovative solutions.
  • Provides a platform for continued professional development and advancement in the industry: A degree in civil engineering not only provides a solid foundation but also serves as a launching pad for ongoing professional development and advancement in the industry. It opens doors to specialized master’s or doctoral programs, allowing you to deepen your expertise in specific areas of civil engineering.

How long does it take to get a degree in Civil Engineering?

The time it takes to earn a degree in civil engineering can vary depending on several factors, including the educational institution, program structure, and the student’s course load. On average, a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering typically takes four years to complete. This includes completing the required coursework, laboratory work, and potentially a final-year project or internship.

If you choose to pursue advanced degrees in civil engineering, such as a master’s or doctoral degree, it typically adds one to three years for a master’s degree and three to six years for a doctoral degree to the overall duration of the study.

However, it’s important to note that some universities offer accelerated programs or allow students to take additional courses during the summer, which can shorten the overall duration. Conversely, part-time study or taking a reduced course load can extend the time required to complete the degree.

How much does it cost to study Civil Engineering at a University?

Different universities request different tuition fees to study civil engineering at their institutions. The cost varies significantly depending on various factors, such as the country, the institution, whether you are an in-state or out-of-state student and the specific program you choose.

In the United States, for example, the average annual tuition for an undergraduate civil engineering program at a public university for in-state students is around $13,555, while for out-of-state students, it is $45,067 or more per year.

In addition to tuition fees, students are responsible for covering expenses such as textbooks, laboratory fees, housing, and potentially meals and transportation. These combined costs can add up significantly, resulting in a substantial bill that may pose financial challenges.

Fortunately, there are opportunities to alleviate the financial burden through scholarships and grants specifically designed to support students studying civil engineering. Additionally, students can explore the option of student loans, which can be repaid after graduation once they have secured employment in the field.

Can I become a Civil Engineer through online education?

Studying civil engineering online is indeed possible and can be a flexible and convenient option for individuals interested in pursuing a career in this field. If you choose to follow this route, here is what you need to do.

  • Research accredited online programs: Find reputable universities offering online Civil Engineering programs that are accredited by recognized bodies for quality education.
  • Review curriculum and course offerings: Ensure the program covers essential topics in Civil Engineering and includes practical components like laboratory work for hands-on learning.
  • Apply and enroll: Complete the application process, submit the required documents, and meet admission requirements to secure a spot in the online program.
  • Create a study schedule: Develop a flexible study routine that allows for effective time management and balances coursework with other commitments.
  • Engage with course materials and instructors: Actively participate in online lectures, discussions, and virtual learning platforms, and utilize communication tools to interact with professors and classmates.
  • Seek practical experiences: Explore opportunities for internships or cooperative education programs to gain hands-on experience in the field of Civil Engineering.

What are some web resources to learn skills to become a Civil Engineer?

The internet is filled with several resources that can help you acquire skills and knowledge to become a civil engineer. However, remember to always verify the credibility and reliability of the information and resources you find online.

  • MIT OpenCourseWare – Offers free access to course materials from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), including lecture notes, assignments, and exams for civil engineering courses.
  • American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) – ASCE’s website provides resources, publications, and webinars covering a wide range of Civil Engineering topics, including design standards and technical guidelines.
  • Engineering Toolbox – Offers a vast collection of technical information, formulas, and calculators related to civil Engineering disciplines, including structural analysis, hydraulics, and materials.
  • Civil Engineering Academy – Provides study guides, practice exams, and resources for the Fundamentals of Engineering (FE) and Professional Engineering (PE) exams, which are important for licensure as a Civil Engineer.
  • Autodesk University – Offers online courses and tutorials on computer-aided design (CAD) software such as AutoCAD and Revit, which are widely used in civil engineering for drafting and design purposes.

What are internship opportunities for a Civil Engineer?

After bagging your civil engineering degree, you should avail yourself of internship opportunities that can provide you with valuable hands-on experience and an opportunity to apply classroom knowledge in real-world settings.

  • Construction Internship: Working with construction companies or contractors to gain practical experience in managing construction projects, monitoring progress, coordinating with subcontractors, and ensuring compliance with safety regulations.
  • Design Internship: Assisting with the design process of civil engineering projects, including creating blueprints, performing calculations, and utilizing computer-aided design (CAD) software to develop detailed plans.
  • Structural Engineering Internship: Assisting structural engineers in analyzing and designing various structures such as bridges, buildings, and dams, including tasks like structural modeling, load calculations, and quality control.
  • Transportation Engineering Internship: Working with transportation engineering firms or government agencies to gain exposure to traffic analysis, road design, transportation planning, and the development of transportation infrastructure projects.
  • Geotechnical Engineering Internship: Assisting geotechnical engineers in conducting soil and rock analysis, site investigations, and foundation design for construction projects.
  • Environmental Engineering Internship: Working with environmental consulting firms or government agencies to gain experience in environmental impact assessments, water and wastewater management, and environmental remediation projects.
  • Surveying Internship: Assisting surveyors in conducting land surveys, utilizing surveying equipment, and creating accurate measurements and maps for construction projects.
  • Research Internship: Collaborating with academic institutions or research organizations to assist in ongoing research projects related to civil engineering, exploring new technologies, materials, or design methodologies.

What Skills Will I Learn as a Civil Engineer?

As a civil engineer, you will develop a diverse set of skills that are essential for your professional success. Here are some key skills you can expect to learn:

  • Technical Skills: You will gain expertise in various technical areas, such as structural analysis and design, transportation engineering, geotechnical engineering, hydraulic engineering, construction management, and environmental engineering.
  • Problem-Solving: Civil engineers are trained to identify and solve complex problems related to infrastructure development, utilizing analytical and critical thinking skills to design innovative solutions.
  • Mathematics and Analysis: You will acquire strong mathematical skills to perform calculations, analyze data, and apply mathematical principles to solve engineering problems.
  • Drawing and Drafting: Drawing skills are crucial for civil engineers. You will learn to create accurate and detailed engineering drawings by hand or using computer-aided design (CAD) software, ensuring clear communication of design intent.
  • Computer-Aided Design (CAD): You will learn to use CAD software, such as AutoCAD and Revit, to create detailed engineering drawings and models for construction projects.
  • Project Management: You will develop skills in project planning, scheduling, and budgeting, along with the ability to coordinate resources, manage stakeholders, and ensure project delivery within specified timelines and budgets.
  • Communication Skills: Effective communication is crucial in Civil Engineering. You will learn to communicate technical information clearly, both verbally and in writing, and collaborate with interdisciplinary teams, clients, and stakeholders.
  • Leadership and Teamwork: Civil Engineers often work in teams and assume leadership roles. You will learn to collaborate, delegate tasks, and motivate team members to achieve project goals.
  • Sustainability and Environmental Awareness: With a growing emphasis on sustainable development, you will gain knowledge of environmentally friendly practices and principles to minimize the impact of infrastructure projects on the environment.

What is the Work-Life Balance of a Civil Engineer?

The work-life balance of a civil engineer can vary depending on various factors, such as the type of projects, company culture, and individual preferences. Here are some aspects to consider:

  • Project Demands: During certain project phases or when deadlines are approaching, the workload for civil engineers can increase, requiring longer hours and dedication. However, there are also periods when the workload may be more manageable.
  • Flexibility: Many civil engineering positions offer flexibility in work schedules, allowing for a better work-life balance. This can include options for flexible hours, remote work, or compressed work weeks.
  • Field Work vs. Office Work: Civil engineers may have a combination of field work and office work. Field work may involve visiting construction sites, conducting inspections, or overseeing project progress. Office work involves tasks like design, analysis, and report writing. Balancing these activities can contribute to varied work experience.

What’s the Career Outlook for Civil Engineer?

The career outlook for civil engineers is generally positive. It is expected that the employment of civil engineers will grow 7 percent from 2021 to 2031. Here are some key points regarding this information.

  • Job Growth: The demand for civil engineers is expected to grow in the coming years due to population growth, urbanization, and the need for infrastructure maintenance, improvement, and development. This demand is especially prominent in emerging economies.
  • Sustainability and Environmental Focus: With the increasing emphasis on sustainability and environmental consciousness, there is a growing need for civil engineers with expertise in green infrastructure, renewable energy, water management, and sustainable construction practices.
  • Government and Private Sector Opportunities: Civil engineers can find employment in government agencies, consulting firms, construction companies, research institutions, and infrastructure development organizations. Both the public and private sectors offer job prospects, with varying scales of projects and responsibilities.
  • Global Opportunities: Civil engineering skills are in demand worldwide. Engineers with international experience and the ability to adapt to different regulations and cultural contexts may find attractive opportunities in foreign markets.

Civil Engineer Popular Career Specialties

What are the Job Opportunities of a Civil Engineer?

Civil engineers have a wide range of job opportunities across various sectors. Here are some common job opportunities for civil engineers:

  • Consulting Engineer: Many Civil engineers work in consulting firms, providing professional services to clients. They may be involved in project planning, design, feasibility studies, and construction management across different sectors such as transportation, water resources, environmental engineering, and structural engineering.
  • Construction Engineer/Manager: Civil engineers can work in the construction industry, overseeing and managing construction projects. They ensure that projects are executed according to plans, budgets, and schedules, coordinate resources, manage subcontractors, and ensure compliance with regulations and safety standards.
  • Structural Engineer: Structural engineers specialize in the design and analysis of structures such as buildings, bridges, and dams. They calculate load capacities, create structural drawings, and ensure the safety and stability of structures. They may work in design firms, construction companies, or government agencies.
  • Transportation Engineer: Transportation Engineers focus on the planning, design, and maintenance of transportation systems, including roads, highways, railways, airports, and public transit. They work on traffic management, transportation planning, and optimizing transportation networks.
  • Geotechnical Engineer: Geotechnical engineers deal with the engineering behavior of soil and rock materials. They assess site conditions, conduct soil investigations, and provide recommendations for foundation design, slope stability, and earthworks. They work in areas such as foundation engineering, geotechnical consultancy, or geotechnical testing.
  • Water Resources Engineer: Water Resources engineers are involved in the management and development of water-related projects. They work on designing water supply systems, stormwater management, flood control measures, and wastewater treatment plants.
  • Environmental Engineer: Environmental engineers focus on addressing environmental challenges and developing sustainable solutions. They work on projects related to environmental impact assessment, pollution control, waste management, and sustainable infrastructure development.
  • Research and Academia: Some civil engineers pursue careers in research and academia. They contribute to the advancement of the field through research projects, teaching, and mentoring future engineers. They may work at universities, research institutions, or government agencies.
  • Government Sector: Civil engineers find job opportunities in government agencies at the local, state, or national levels. They are involved in infrastructure planning, public works projects, regulatory compliance, and policy development.
  • Entrepreneurship: Civil engineers with an entrepreneurial spirit may choose to start their own engineering firms, providing specialized services, developing innovative solutions, or focusing on niche markets.

These job opportunities highlight the diverse range of career paths available to civil engineers, allowing them to specialize in specific areas of interest and contribute to the development and maintenance of infrastructure projects.

Should I become a Civil Engineer?

Civil engineering is a unique blend of technical prowess, analytical thinking, and creative problem-solving skills. One of the most exhilarating aspects of being a civil engineer is the opportunity to be part of innovative and transformative projects. This field thrives on creativity and demands engineers who can think outside the box, design sustainable solutions, and shape the built environment.

Deciding whether this career path is the right one for you is a personal journey that requires careful consideration. You must reflect on your passion for engineering, your technical aptitude, and your desire to contribute to the construction and development of infrastructure. By carefully weighing your interests, skills, and aspirations, you can make an informed decision that sets you on a path toward a rewarding career as a civil engineer. Remember, the final choice lies in your hands.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is a typical work week like for a Civil Engineer?

Most civil engineers put in at least 40 hours a week of full-time employment. A huge number of these professionals keep standard office hours,  while those who work on-site for projects may discover that their schedules change depending on the circumstances at the site.


What are some professions that work closely with Civil Engineers?

Depending on the project, civil engineers might collaborate closely with architects, project managers, landscape designers, environmental engineers, mechanical engineers, urban planners, and surveyors.

Can Civil Engineers work abroad?

Yes, there are opportunities for civil engineers to work abroad, particularly with multinational engineering firms or on large construction projects. Before applying for work there, the individual must take into account various criteria, licenses, and laws depending on the country in question.


How can I become a licensed Civil Engineer?

Every country and state has different standards for obtaining a license as a civil engineer. Typically, it entails earning a degree from an approved university, accumulating relevant job experience, and passing the regionally-specific professional licensure tests.


Is Civil Engineering a lucrative career?

Civil engineering offers excellent salaries and career growth opportunities. However, earning potential will vary depending on experience, specialty, location, and industry demand.


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Anita Akpuoforba

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